“This Makes No Sense!” Elder Marge Rose Reacts to the City of Prince George’s Third Attempt to Remove Moccasin Flats

After the City of Prince George’s failed attempt to secure an injunction on the encampment at the end of 5th Avenue in October 2021, the City submitted a “short-leave” application to remove the encampment in early December. 

After the City of Prince George’s failed attempt to secure an injunction on the encampment at the end of 5th Avenue in October 2021, the City submitted a “short-leave” application to remove the encampment in early December.  This was also rejected by the judge. With legal fees mounting, City of Prince George will again re-appear in court today, December 14 with an application to remove the few remaining residents who reside in Moccasin Flats.

Legal fees for a municipal case such as this can run upwards of $8000 per day. Marge Rose, an Elder in Together We Stand!! asks “why does the city have to waste so much money on these legal battles?  Tax payer dollars are being used to make life even harder for people who are already knocked down.  Couldn’t that money be better spent to support people – like for wrap around services, or to help them on their road to recovery? This makes no sense.”

Juls Budau, a masters candidate in the School of Social Work at UNBC says, “it’s frustrating that the city continues to spend so much money forcing displacement rather than funneling resources towards support.  Forced displacements have worse outcomes for safety, overdose, mental illness, and the spread of COVID-19. It’s also frustrating that the city continually asserts that everyone is housed.  There were 80 residents of Moccasin Flats, more when you count the people who flowed in and out when they were between other housing options.  Yet only about 40 people have received BC Housing. It’s simple math.  Not everyone has been housed.”

Henry Abel Joseph, Dakelh Elder from Lasilyoo Clan and a Residential School Survivor contends, “there will be more deaths from freezing and overdoses.”  He explained that many people who are de-housed and on the street turn to drugs because they are left with little to hope for and the drugs are cheap and powerful. When there’s no place to go and the cold wind is swirling around you, the drugs can help you feel “normal” for a moment, but they are more dangerous than before.  Joseph said, “These people have been beaten down by our systems, whether that’s the school, Ministry of Children and Family Development, bylaws, or the RCMP and the compounded pressure takes over.  This isn’t fair for any human.  These are real people.”

Joseph believes that the City’s third attempt at court doesn’t reflect reasonable decision making but is an act of obedience to “loud complaining voters.”  According to Joseph, “the city wants to be seen in a good light and they’ve heard complaints by a segment of the population.  They are trying to prove themselves for the next election, it’s a political strategy.”  However Henry worries that their political strategies could have a deadly effect.  “The fear mongering and harassment that bylaw continues to mount towards our de-housed community is working.  People have no place to go and you see them walking around all night, from midnight till 4 am, and then sleeping huddled together in corners and in wind shelters during the day. This is a recipe for disaster.”

Joseph believes that reconciliation needs to be central to our approach to homeliness.  “Big money is being spent on these court cases.  We could be spending this money to build trust and make better plans.  We could have got everyone in a room together, ironed out our differences and figured out ways to solve this together.   We are the hub of the North and it’s asinine to think that people are being kicked out with no place to go.”

Ivan Paquette of Indigenous LIVE- Turtle Island says “it’s an oversight that we do not acknowledge that 70% of our homeless are Indigenous and almost half of the de-housed population grew up in foster care or group homes.  If you are an urban Indigenous person you are about 8x more likely to be homeless than your non-Indigenous neighbor. In addition to a warm space we need to provide a place to be cared for and to heal.  Indigenous leaders have to step up to educate our nation about the holistic supports that are needed with respect to homelessness.  Indigenous healing needs to be at the centre of our response.”

Robin Dielissen, a citizen of Prince George compares our approach to homelessness with other municipalities explaining that we have many models to consider.  Dielissen explains that Cowichan Valley Regional District made it their mandate to address homelessness and in 2018, residents voted in a referendum to increase property taxes to help address the region’s affordable housing crisis.  Unlike Prince George, “Cowichan has not taken the stand that the homeless community are outside of the municipalities responsibility.” A third year anthropology class at the UNBC revealed similar findings during a presentation attended by city councilors, BC Housing and the BC Assembly of First Nations on December 1.  They offered the examples of Vienna, Finland, Calgary and Medicine Hat, who have made significant commitments to a “Housing First” approach, and have seen results.

As economic, social and geographic inequalities continue to escalate across Canada,  poverty and homelessness will be increasingly visible. Homelessness will not end with another expensive legal battle. No matter the outcome of December 14th’s court case, the demand for affordable housing will exceed the supply in PG and parks and public spaces will be the last and only resort for de-housed citizens like Patrick W.  On November 17 Patrick’s home and belongings in Moccasin Flats were destroyed by the City Bylaw, but Patrick was not offered BC Housing. When asked where he will go tonight Patrick, a Residential School Survivor and living with mental illness shrugged, “I am kicked out of every shelter.  I don’t get along with authority figures and the shelter staff feel like an authority to me.”

Linda Keefe, nurse and social advocate, concludes “it is immoral to force human beings from the only space they have available for them to lay their heads at the end of the day. What kind of society have we become, that we continue to kick someone who is already down?”

De-housed individuals are exhausted from continual harassment and the unrelenting misuse of legal apparatus to erase the visibility of homelessness.  Budau concludes, “The brutal tactics of municipalities towards de-housed individuals intensifies distrust, perpetuates trauma, puts people at higher risk of overdose death and will not solve the problem of homelessness.  The cost for legal and institutional service (legal, police, bylaw, ambulance, emergency room visits and other health costs) far outweigh a housing first solution.”

TOGETHER WE STAND!!, a grassroots movement of housed, de-housed and precariously housed people in Prince George, BC stand in solidarity with the residents of Moccasin Flats who will be the subject of another court hearing today.  Together We Stand!! acknowledge the unceded lands of the Leidli Whuttan where we live